OUseful.Info, the blog…

Trying to find useful things to do with emerging technologies in open education

Moving Machines…

I’ve just taken on a new desktop computer – the first desktop machine I’ll have used as daily machine for seven or eight years. As with every new toy, there is the danger of immediately filling it with the same crud that I’ve got on my current laptop, but I’m going to try to limit myself to installing things that I actually use…

My initial download list (the computer is a Mac):

  • A lot of files I work with are on Google docs, so I don’t actually need to install them at all – I just need a browser to access them
  • an alternative browser: Macs come with Safari preinstalled but I tend to use Chrome; I don’t sign in to Chrome, although I do use it on several machines. Being able to synch bookmarks would be handy, but I’m not sure I want to inflict the scores of open tabs I have onto every browser I open…
  • Dropbox desktop: I need to rethink my Dropbox strategy, and indeed the way I organise files, but Dropbox on the desktop is really handy…having downloaded and configured the client, it started synching my Dropbox files by itself (of course…;-). I’ll probably add the Google Drive dektop client at some point too, but in that case I definitely need a better file management strategy…
  • Gephi: for playing with network visualisations, and one of the main reasons for getting the new machine. As Gephi is a Jave app, I also needed to download a Java runtime in order to be able to run it
  • Rstudio: I considered not bothering with this, pondering whether I could move wholesale to the hosted RStudio at crunch.kmi.open.ac.uk, but then went with the desktop version for several reasons: a) I tinker with RStudio all the time, and don’t necessarily want to share everything on Crunch (not because users can see each others’ files even if they aren’t public, rather: there’s the risk Crunch may disappear/become unavailable/I might be cast out of the OU etc etc); b) the desktop version plays nicely with git/github…
  • Git and Git for Mac: I originally downloaded Git for Mac, a rather handy UI client, thinking it would pull down a version of Git for the commandline that RStudio could play with. It didn’t seeem to, so I pulled a git installer down too;
  • Having got Git in place, I cloned one project I’m currently working on from Github using RStudio, and another using Git for Mac; the RStudio project had quite a few package dependencies (ggplot2, twitteR, igraph, googleVis, knitr) so I installed them by hand. I really need to refactor my R code so that it installs any required packages if they haven’t already been installed.
  • One of the things I pulled from Github is a Python project; it has a few dependencies (simplejson (which I need to update away from?), tweepy, networkx, YQL), so I grabbed them too (using easy_install).
  • For my Python scribbles, I needed a text editor. I use TextWrangler on my laptop, and saw no reason to move away from it, so I grabbed that too. (I really need to become a more powerful user of TextWrangler – I don’t really know how to make proper use of it at all…)
  • Another reason for the big screen/bigger machine was to start working with SVG files – so I grabbed a copy of Inkscape and had a quick play with it. It’s been a long time since I used a mouse, and the Mac magic mouse seems to have a mind of its own (I far prefer two-finger click to RSI inducing right-click but haven’t worked out how/if magic mouse supports that?) but I’ve slowly started to find my way round it. Trying to import .eps files, I also found I needed to download and install Ghostscript (which required a little digging around until I found someone who’d built a Mac package/installer…)
  • I am reluctant to install a Twitter client – I think I shall keep the laptop open and running social tools so as not to distract myself by social conversation tools on the other machine…
  • I guess I’ll need to install a VPN client when I need to login to the OU VPN network…
  • I had a brief go at wiring up Mac mail and iCal to the OU’s Outlook client using a Faculty cribsheet, but after a couple of attempts I couldn’t get it to take so guess I’ll just stick with the Outlook Web App.

PS One of the reasons for grabbing this current snapshot of my daily tools is because the OU IT powers that be are currently looking at installing OU standard desktops that are intended to largely limit the installation of software to software from an approved list (and presumably offer downloads from an approved repository). I can see this has advantages for management, (and might also have simplified my migration?) but it is also highly restrictive. One of the problems with instituting too much process is that folk find workarounds (like acquiring admin passwords, rather than being given their own admin/root accounts from the outset) or resetting machines to factory defaults to get around pre-installed admin bottlenecks. I appreciate this may go against the Computing Code of Conduct, but I rarely connect my machines directly to the OU network, instead favouring eduroam when on campus (better port access!) and using VPN if I ever need access to OU network services. Software is the stuff that allows computers to take on the form of an infinite number of tools – the IT stance seems to take the view that it’s a limited purpose tool and they’re the ones who set the limits. Which makes me wonder: maybe this is just another front on the “Coming Civil War over General-purpose Computing”…?

Written by Tony Hirst

September 13, 2012 at 8:41 pm

Posted in Admin..., Stirring

5 Responses

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  1. Email client – I highly recommend Postbox.

    AJ Cann

    September 14, 2012 at 8:32 am

  2. Easiest way to get the typical command lines tools for Mac OS X is just to install XCode (which installs a command line git) – alternatively there are ‘Command Line Tools (for Xcode)’ for both Lion and Mountain Lion available from the Apple developer site (you do need to register but not pay to access these) which only installs the command line tools and not the full XCode package.

    I’m currently using SourceTree (available for free from the Apple Store) as my git gui client.

    Pete Mitton

    September 14, 2012 at 9:01 am

  3. OSX has a VPN client built in, unless you need OpenVPN, where you need Tunnelblick. I use Homebrew for commandline tools. It’s a one line install, once you have XCode installed. It sounds like the OU is running Exchange 2003, like we do at Lincoln. Apple’s Mail only works with Exchange 2010 onwards. Many IT services that run Exchange, also have an IMAP port (usually 993 for SSL) open, so you can try that route. I’ve never found iCal very reliable with work’s Exchange calendar. Oh, and reading attachments that have been sent via Outlook is often a hassle, because they arrive as winmail.dat files and the TNEF’s Enough application doesn’t always open them. To be honest, much of the time I have a Win 7/Outlook 2010 window open in VirtualBox to work around the Exchange madness. Roll on our upgrade to Exchange 2010!

    Joss Winn

    September 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    • @Joss Oh the joys of trying to use institutional systems not via institutional desktops on institutional machines via institutional networks… Old Exchange sound probably right… I guess I’ll just continue to go in via web client – or maybe move to a Google account and route it that way (quite a few other OU folk took that step I think…)

      I haven’t looked at VPN clients… we’re keycard confirmationed…: do arbitrary clients pick up on such things..? (Revealing my ignorance about VPN practice…;-)

      Tony Hirst

      September 19, 2012 at 8:17 pm

      • Yes, I route it all mail through Google, but not calendar any more. Just didn’t help with accepting/setting up meetings. I’d use IMAP for work email but the footer on each message is just embarassingly long and simple forwarding allows me to circumvent that.

        Joss

        September 19, 2012 at 8:32 pm


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